I’ve seen Money at least three times now and heard the majority of their latest album ‘Suicide Songs’ played live. ‘The Shadow of Heaven’ is still one of my favourite albums though and so I was initially a little frustrated by the sudden shift to acoustic based ballads in the follow-up. But when experienced live the tracks take on a whole new dimension. There’s something special about watching Money’s refractory, yet mesmerizingly talented singer, Jamie Lee spit out the lines of ‘A Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic’s New Year’ in the middle of a beleaguered crowd in full semi-drunken Shane McGowan mode.
This time is no different. He deflects heckles and disturbances from the Northumbria SU crowd with stinging, blunt comebacks and eye-rolls. You don’t get the impression that Lee is in it for the money (sorry) and that’s what makes him and his band such a joy to watch – nothing is riding on their performance other than their art. ‘All My Life’ fills the room with a sense of pure emotional elation and like many of the album’s tracks, is splurged straight from the guttural core of Lee’s darkest moments. It’s equally beautiful and unnerving to see such honesty unfold before your very eyes. The man is clearly a tormented soul and finds catharsis in his declarations of “There will be music all around/when they put me in the ground” from ‘You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides Of The Sky’ – a poignant lyric if there ever was one. It’s frustrating to know that the crowd isn’t in Lee’s corner tonight (apart from the few of us stood in awe), some shouting “You’re shit” and others bickering amongst themselves, getting itchy for the main act. I guess sometimes proper music doesn’t have a proper audience.
If you were to say that Wild Beasts would become one of the most exciting and intriguing pop bands around 10 years ago, most people (especially fans like myself) would have laughed it off, or expressed some sort of disdain at the idea. ‘Limbo, Panto’ and ‘Two Dancers’ were indie art rock masterpieces in their own right, reflecting the separation between the band and what was going on elsewhere. But the band’s latest album ‘Boy King’ deserves its plaudits and the huge amounts of attention it is getting. The album is jam packed with the kind of slick hooks, memorable chorus and sexualised guitar solos that Prince will be getting down to at in a disco somewhere in the ether. In essence, Boy King is feminist propaganda, gleefully taking swipes at the phallic pomposity of male masculinity through a host of in-your-face tunes and overt, sexualised imagery.
After a long introduction in which This Mortal Coil’s version of ‘Song For The Siren’ is belted through the speakers, the room falls into silence. Then a sudden, building synthesiser intro washes over the venue, as the backdrop decorated with Boy King’s vivid mask/head artwork begins to fill with red. The anticipation becomes almost unbearable, but the band finally emerge to rapturous applause and whistles. It feels like Wild Beasts have been reborn. They open with ‘Big Cat’, one of the strongest tracks from their new album and catapult the crowd into song, with singer Hayden Thorpe’s cries of “Big cat top of the food chain” chanted around the room.
After an introduction that’s blown a hole in the roof of Northumbria SU, the band, already in a sweat, recollect for old favourite ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ to joyous response. “Have you ever went home with the wrong person before?” says Thorpe, introducing ‘Ponytail, with its weird, curling electronic refrain, and Tom Fleming providing his hoarse toned vocals “I want you to love me/I want you to trust me”. Already you feel like the band have a firm grasp on their new-found sound. Chris Talbot’s drumming is as wonderful as usual, intricately clicking its way around the pulsating melodies and bass-lines.
There are some unexpected additions to the setlist, like ‘Lions Share’ for example, in which the lights dim to create a magical atmosphere, as the minimal piano builds up alongside Thorpe’s wailing falsetto. ‘2BU’ is another track that utilises Fleming’s more subtle vocal turns of phrase, returning to more Smother-like aural pastures. Wild Beats’ new material shines magically in a live setting, with Fleming’s utterly ridiculous, distorted guitar solos being a great example of the band’s new found confidence in their ability and showmanship.
One of the other standout moments of the night is the euphoric rocket fuel of ‘Wanderlust’, probably the band’s most exciting tracks to date. Thorpe’s repetitions of “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck” become sharper and sharper as the band cruise towards a mind-blowing instrumental pay-off that whisks you away to another world.
There’s no doubt that Wild Beasts have evolved. They are no longer the wanderers of a mysterious sophisti-pop landscape, speaking an enigmatic language. Now, they are art rockstars in their own right, with tales to tell and huge performances to boot. It’s still the band we’ve all come to love over their five albums, but with an added gusto and fire that’s been missing since their feisty Cumbrian beginnings.
Photographer – Lee Hammond
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